Justin P. Au.D. was diagnosed with hearing loss as a child. Today, he wears a cochlear implant in one ear and a hearing aid in the other. Read Justin’s interview regarding his hearing loss journey. As an audiologist, see why he chose Cochlear over any other cochlear implant brand.
- At what age was your hearing loss identified?
My hearing loss was identified at age 4, following my very first ear infection. The initial assumption was that I had a conductive hearing loss. However, the testing involved showed that I had a sensorineural hearing loss, which is not what you would expect to see in a child with an ear infection. My ear infection resulted in my parents finding out I had hearing loss, and from there, it was full steam ahead with hearing aids and speech therapy.
- If your parents have shared their experience(s) with you and would be comfortable with you writing about them, can you describe how they felt about your hearing loss?
They were shocked! There was no family history of hearing loss and they wondered what the cause was. At age 9, there was a significant drop in my hearing. After a lot of testing, I was diagnosed with bilateral Enlarged Vestibular Aqueducts (EVA). As many of the readers will know, the diagnosis of EVA indicates that hearing loss may progress over time and can result in rapid and permanent loss of hearing.
- If your hearing loss was diagnosed in childhood, what are some of the first memories you have that involve your awareness of the benefits/challenges of your hearing loss?
Growing up in Long Island NY, the pool and beach were where we spent our time in the summer. I quickly realized that I could not wear my hearing aids in the water. At the pool, I had to be diligent about taking my hearing aids off and putting them back on when getting in and out of the pool. I can remember on numerous occasions jumping in the pool with my hearing aids on and quickly jumping back out when realizing they were still in. Thank goodness for the Dry & Store®! Obviously, going without my hearing aids at the pool made communication difficult for me. I am so grateful that I can now use the Aqua+* and still hear well in and around water!
- If you wore an FM system in school, can you please describe the benefits and challenges of FM for you?
I did wear an FM through my elementary school years. I had a great school audiologist who taught me to how to use, wear, and troubleshoot my own FM equipment. Early on, I am convinced it helped in hearing the teacher, but it did not help very much when other students were talking as FM only picked up the teachers’ microphone. As the technology improved and I could connect the FM to my hearing aids, the ability to hear both the teacher and other students improved as well. However, I certainly had my fair share of situations where the teacher forgot to turn off the FM when going to the bathroom, when talking to a troubled student, or having a private conversation with another teacher in the hall.
- In what ways did your own hearing loss impact your decision to become an audiologist?
At a younger age, I was interested in becoming an audiologist and my family supported me. During my second year of college, I remember making the final decision to pursue audiology as my career.
- Who is the professor or mentor who has most shaped your career and how?
Ian Windmill Ph.D. taught the Differential Diagnosis class that really helped me to develop problem-solving skills required for diagnosing and treating hearing loss. I feel like he and that class shaped the work that I do today!
- Do you feel that being an audiologist helped or hindered your decision to receive a cochlear implant? In what ways?
Without a doubt, it helped. Having fit cochlear implants on patients, I was able to see the difference they made in people’s lives. In addition, it certainly helped me to know people in the industry when it came time to decide for myself.
- When you were considering your first (or only CI) what factors contributed to that decision?
At the time, I was working as an audiologist in a clinic and I had another “drop in hearing” episode. Typically, the “drops” would last a couple of weeks and then my hearing would come back almost to where it was before. This time, though, the “drop” lasted three months and did not come back. It was time for me to move forward with getting a cochlear implant.
- At your implanting center, were you faced with a brand decision? If so, what played into your choice?
There were multiple factors that came into play. Most importantly, were my personal experiences with each of the companies as a student and as an audiologist, as well as each company’s reputation in the industry. Cochlear had the most recipients and offered the most reliable implant in the industry.1 Both of these important factors were true in 2007 and they remain true today as well.
- Describe your initial activation detail in as much (or as little) detail as you are comfortable sharing:
Initial activation was interesting. I had heard many stories, but there is nothing like going through it yourself. Honestly, the first 5 minutes after being “turned on” I was like, “Oh no! What did I do?” Everyone in the room sounded like Mickey Mouse. However, over the course of the appointment, my audiologist began sounding like my audiologist, my wife sounded more like herself, and there happened to be a gentlemen from Cochlear there as well, and he sounded like a man. So, by the end of the appointment, women sounded like women and men like men, everything was just a little higher in pitch. In addition, there was also this robotic trill at the ends of words, kind of like when R2D2 “talks” in Star Wars. This, I soon figured out, was the sounds I had not heard with my hearing aids. This was my brain getting used to high pitch sounds again, which I had not heard in a while. Today this trill is gone and I hear better than I ever have before.
- What sounds were you most eager to hear (or to hear again)? How did they sound to you at your initial activation, and how do they sound to you today?
There weren’t any particular sounds I was looking to hear again. Rather I just wanted to hear again, so I could function properly in the real world. Once my hearing dropped, things were hard in social settings. My wife and I liked to go out and meet our friends for dinner or at church and this became difficult for me. I found myself saying, “I’d rather stay in.”
At work, I was having a difficult time hearing my patients, testing, fitting hearing aids and communicating with others in the office.
Today, things sound better, more clear and rich. And I am able to listen to music and stream phone calls directly to my CI sound processor.
- If you are unilaterally implanted, do you benefit from a hearing instrument in your contralateral ear? If so, what benefits do you feel you receive?
Currently, I have a cochlear implant in my right ear and still wear a hearing aid in my left ear. I take advantage of both ears to hear better in noise and to know where sounds are coming from. I like to use the True Wireless™ accessories, which allow me to connect to my phone for podcasts, movies and music.
- If you are unilaterally implanted, what factors would cause you to choose (or NOT to choose) bilateral CI?
When the day comes that I am out in the world and my hearing aid is no longer helping me that will be the day I schedule my cochlear implant evaluation to go bilateral.
- How has having hearing loss and a cochlear implant(s) shaped the way you counsel your patients?
I do not currently counsel patients because I work in the corporate medical device world now, but when I did, it was easy to empathize with them. I could understand what they were going through at the time, whether it was getting hearing aids or a cochlear implant. It also helped to form a camaraderie with my patients due to similar challenges we have experienced with hearing loss.
- What questions do your patients most often ask you about your own hearing loss or about your CI(s)?
Many times questions come before getting the implant. Typically these questions are:
Does it work?
How does it sound?
- Is there any part of you that wishes you had pursued CI earlier?
Definitely! If I had been a candidate sooner, I probably would have. I think it certainly would have made earning my audiology degree easier.
- In your own words, please describe the difference in overall sound quality and clarity between your implanted and your non-implanted ear:
For me words are more clear and rich sounding on my implanted side. In addition, I feel I am able to hear sounds at softer levels with my CI, because I now have access to those higher pitch sounds.
One occasion, after getting implanted, that really sticks out in my memory was when it first began to rain, the metallic “cling” of the tiny raindrops hitting my car and the little sounds each one of them made as the “clinging” got faster. I loved being able to hear that soft sound.
- What advances in CI technology are you most excited about?
CI technology has come a long way since I was implanted eleven years ago, most recently, Made for iPhone and SCAN.** Before that, there was the ability to connect via Bluetooth® using True Wireless and directional microphone technology, like Zoom technology, to help me hear better in noise. In addition, the Aqua+ is amazing! I can finally hear in the water.
- What advances in CI technology are you most hopeful for?
Of course smaller is always better, invisible would nice, or even a way to hear all the time. A built-in translator when traveling to other countries. Just a few things…LOL
- Have you ever programmed your own CI?
I have, but I will always need a little help measuring my “T’s”, of course.
*Nucleus 7 with Aqua+ is water resistant to level IP68 of the International Standard IEC60529. This water protection rating means that the sound processor with the Aqua+ can be continuously submerged under water to a depth of 3 meters (9 feet and 9 inches) for up to 2 hours. This water protection only applies when you use a Cochlear Standard Rechargeable Battery Module or Cochlear Compact Rechargeable Battery Module.
**SNR-NR,WNR and SCAN are approved for use with any recipient ages 6 years and older who is able to 1) complete objective speech perception testing in quiet and in noise in order to determine and document performance 2) report a preference for different program settings
Cochlear Limited, 454378. Comparison of reliability of cochlear implants commercially available (as at 31 December 2017). Data on file.